An eye-witness account by Gerrit Vermeulen, a young Dutch soldier from Renswoude
In his own words:
Gedangan, 5 September 1946
It is 7:00 in the morning and we hear shots coming from Benowo. That is strange, there has never been any fighting in Benowo so we call to find out what’s going on. Mercy! They tell us that most of the soldiers left early today on patrol, leaving only 40 men in the camp, which is now being attacked from two sides by about 200 men. Wirelessly the patrol is called back to relieve the camp. In the mean time, leaving a trail of casualties and injured, the attackers flee, straight into the arms of the returning patrol. Again there are many casualties and injured. We usually don’t get told how many dead bodies there are, but this time we think the number is anywhere between 70 and 100, plus the injured and the prisoners. Benowo is about 5 kilometers from Gedangan. Attacks in Bobo and Maro have similar results. But we suffered no casualties whatsoever, thank God.
Gedangan, 6 September 1946
I wonder how it is possible that the enemy in Benowo, Bobo and Maro suffered several hundred deaths and we did not have any. The attacks on those three places were carried out by about 1000 men, gangs of robbers, pesindo’s, (youths of the Communist Party), and a bunch of extremists. They had been told to go and kill the orang belanda (white people) in those three places and then to go to Soerabaja where there were 40 more orang belanda to kill. But those were actually killed by the Indonesians in Soerabaja, so they could just continue. These gangs were so poorly armed that it was pitiful. Most of them only had a spear. We later heard that the commanders considered them an unmanageable gang and sent them into battle assuming that they were going to be killed by our army, so that they would not bother the Indonesians any more. This is the hopeless way the so-called Republic of Indonesia is operating. There is no order, command, or leadership but only terror, plunder, murder and misery, and still there are people in the Netherlands who say, “Oh, leave those poor people alone! They are fighting for their freedom.”
Tuesday, 10 September 1946
Today the patrol has another catch. The men visiting the pasar on the square are interrogated. One of them, with an impudent face and carrying a large briefcase is quickly found out. The briefcase contained thousands of Japanese guilders. The commander of Grissee had sent him to Soerabaja to purchase car tires and bicycle tires for the extremists. On top of that he had a list with addresses of extremists in Soerabaja he could go to. But I think all those will have been imprisoned by now.
Thursday, 12 September 1946
Last night I went to bed around 8:30, but I did not fall asleep right away. When I was fast asleep around 9:30, I woke up suddenly by a loud bang. I was annoyed that the boys were making so much noise and turned over. But then the major came storming into our hut: “Set up the mortar, quick!” A sudden burst of grenades close by made me realize that I had been awoken by the sound of a grenade. Quickly we fired two light grenades out front but saw nothing. One of the guards said he had seen several men out front, who had thrown the two grenades that we had heard. But I think it was imagination because nothing happened and we went back to bed and I slept well.
Today, after work, as we are sitting in front of our hut where we sleep with five men, one of them yells “A snake, a huge snake in the hut!” Quickly we get a few sticks. But the snake is already invisible in the rubbish on the side and crawles out on the other side. I run around the outside and kill it; then one of the boys flattens the head with his rifle butt. I had hit it in the center, and one of the boys lifts it up by its tail. Suddenly a large frog falls out of the hole in the middle, a very large frog, still alive, with only a broken leg. But he can jolly well jump away and disappears in the tall grass.
Benowo, 14 September 1946
We have an early call tonight. At 12:30 we’re told: ” Get up boys, we leave at 2:30.” First along a path through the sawahs (rice fields) then along the embankments in between the tambaks (fish ponds). After more than an hour we come to a largely destroyed dessa (village) and a kali (river), a wide, deep kali. There is no prauw (sort of canoe) to get across.
On the other side is a kampong, clearly visible in the moonlight. One of us takes his clothes off and swims across. Not a very pleasant job, to walk naked and unarmed into a kampong that is possibly occupied by armed extremists. He asks one of the natives if there is another canoe available but gets told that the extremists took all of the canoes the day before. One large canoe by the side of the kali is full of holes and totally useless.
There is nothing else to do but build a raft, because all of us swimming across with weapons and equipment is impossible. Then… we find two canoes on our side. A large one that we can’t lift and a small one for 7 or 8 men. We move the small canoe through the mud and into the water and with five men at a time, about ten times back and forth, bailing water after every crossing, we all make it across.
In between the tambaks we march and we position ourselves at the very end of them.
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